Tag Archives: Gratitude

The Simple Honor of Labor

We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:7b-9 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been digging deep into the book of Acts and the history of the Jesus Movement’s early years. As part of that, I have been reading and studying the life of Paul, the brilliant maverick who was transformed from the Jesus Movement’s staunchest enemy into its most powerful and productive advocate and member.

In my study of Paul’s life I’ve come to an appreciation of how Paul lived and labored. My whole life l’ve always pictured Paul as spending most of his time, day-after-day, teaching, preaching, writing letters, and preaching the gospel. I’ve come to learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Most of Paul’s time, day-after-day, was spent making tents.

As most people of his day, Paul was apprenticed into the family business which was the making and repairing of tents (and presumably awnings and other textiles used to block the sun). It was a trade that could be plied anywhere, and Paul carried his tools to ply his trade wherever his missions took him. In today’s chapter, Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica that he and his companions labored “night and day” to provide for themselves.

Paul reminds the believers of his example because the followers of Jesus were proponents of generosity and giving to those in need, especially the poor and widows. Now, there were individuals who were happy to keep taking from the believers’ fledgling system of charity with no intention of contributing.

I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic. I also come from Dutch heritage, a culture historically known for its work ethic. I’ll spare you the litany of my labor history, which date back to my pre-teenage years. Suffice it to say that I appreciate Paul’s attitude. Other leaders of the Jesus movement had begun to work solely on the contributions of other believers. Paul accepted that this was an appropriate practice. He even helped collect money and deliver it to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he steadfastly chose to work to pay his own way. Today, he states clearly his intent. He wanted to live as an example to others. His message to the Thessalonian believers was consistent through both of his letters: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to good of the whole. Be content.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday that we Americans will celebrate on Thursday. I recognize the blessing of living and laboring in the richest part of the world. I’m grateful. I’m also mindful and thankful for my father whom I watched struggle through multiple vocational setbacks, yet he always worked hard at whatever job he may have needed until he could get to a job that was more of what he wanted. I think of my great-grandfather risking everything to come to America, by himself, to eek out a living for he and his family as an immigrant. I think of one grandparent striving to make his way through college, the first member of his family to do so, and then working into his 90s. “The day I stop working,” he was fond of repeating to anyone who would listen, “will be the day I die!” I’m also remembering another grandparent (that’s him, first from the right in the featured photo of this post) taking the only work he could find in the Great Depression and laboring at that job for 40 years. Daily, he went about the simple task life selling and servicing tires. Not once did I hear him complain.

We live in a rapidly changing, complex world. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of some things that never change: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to the good of the whole. Be content.

Oh yeah. And: Give thanks.

Have a great week, my friend.

Hope We Never Wanted to Imagine

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted. In yesterday’s post about our vacation in Palm Springs I gave a host of reasons why I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. This morning I had to wake up to the realization that I was, perhaps, simply trying to avoid today’s chapter.

I don’t know what to do with ‘No,'” Wendy often said to me in the depths of our journey through infertility. Walking with Wendy through that stretch of our journey I had the same fear. Though I still don’t pretend to fully understand just how pervasive that fear is for a woman whose body and soul is uniquely crafted to bring a child into this world, and is then repeatedly denied the opportunity.

Yes” is the answer on which you place our hopes.

Yes, you are finally pregnant.”
Yes, the pregnancy will take this time and you will bring it to term.”

Wait” is the answer we didn’t want, but we would be willing to put up with.

Wait, it will happen – just not yet.”
Wait, you are going to realize what you so greatly desire. But, just like so many other women, you will have to wait longer than you wanted.

No” was the answer we didn’t know how to handle.

And yet, “No” was what we, and so many others, have walked through. It is a part of our story. We couldn’t fathom it in that moment. We couldn’t go there in our minds. We couldn’t wrap our hearts around it. We avoided the thought like the plague. And, then it happened. It became part of our story. But, it is not the story.

In today’s chapter Isaiah uses the barren woman as a metaphor of lost and forgotten hope. Out of the depths of hopelessness Holy Spirit breaths through the old prophet’s poetic pen to bring new hope to the people of Judah whose lives and city lay in ruins. At the same time, Holy Spirit breathes a much needed reminder of renewed hope to all of us who have realized some of our deepest fears.

Our stories are still being written, and the pain of the chapter called “Infertility” is a part of it. It is just a chapter in the story. It is not the story itself.  Wendy and I have experienced God’s compassion and everlasting kindness. In witness of Isaiah’s prophetic word, Wendy and I can attest that God’s unfailing love has not been shaken, nor has His covenant of peace been removed. I write this knowing that it will not bring comfort to those who find themselves in the reality of that same fear. Those who live in acute fear of “No” will desperately distance themselves from the thought of it possibly happening to them. However, things that are true need to be written, and they need to be said for those who may not want to hear it in the moment.

This morning I am thankful for the chapter of our lives called “Infertility.” The grief of it will never fully recede in this life. That grief marks all who make that journey. We are, however, truly thankful for what that chapter of our journey has taught us and for the good places to which it led. Sometimes in this life our deepest and most natural of hopes and desires go unrealized. For those willing to follow, the journey leads further up and further in to good places you never wanted to imagine in the moment.

I’m an Epic Fail at Gift Giving

If you bring a grain offering baked in an oven, it is to consist of the finest flour: either thick loaves made without yeast and with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves made without yeast and brushed with olive oil.
Leviticus 2:4 (NRSV)

I have a confession to make. I am generally an epic failure when it comes to gift giving. In fact, forget the “generally” and just call it epic fail. The procuring and giving of gifts doesn’t come naturally like it does for others I know and love. I have to think about it. I’m forgetful about special days. I constantly second guess myself. I agonize over what the recipient would want and enjoy. Once the gift is given I am insecure about the gift I gave and agonize over whether I should have given something else.

The truth of the matter is that my agony over gift giving is, in part, because it points to a core self-centeredness in my soul. It feels like an inability to know and love others better than I love myself. I hate that. I need help.

In today’s chapter, God’s ancient rules state that a blood sacrifice should be accompanied with a gift. The grain offering was basically a loaf of bread made with the finest ingredients. It required that the giver remember, think, set aside time, prepare the gift by making and baking it, then bring it to God at the altar. The blood sacrifice was about atonement, the grain offering was about gratitude.

For forty years the nation of Israel wandered around the wilderness in search of the promised land. Each night God sent a gift known as Manna. It arrived with the dew each morning. It was bread from heaven and it sustained them in the long march.

Now God says, “if you want to say thank you, make me a nice loaf of bread.” It tells me that you remember the manna. It says to me that you appreciated my gift and were grateful. It is consider-ate. I appreciate the thought. I value the sacrifice of time and effort you took to think of me in this way. It’s a tangible expression of your love.”

This morning I’m feeling, once again, repentant. I’d like to think that I’ve made progress in this spiritual journey. I know I have. Nevertheless, God’s ancient prescription to be a good and grateful giver of gifts reminds me this morning of core changes that have yet to be made; work still in progress after all these years.

This is a reminder to me that no matter how much progress I’ve made I still need help. I still need a savior. I still need forgiveness, and mercy, and grace. And, it strikes me that this is exactly the point of God’s ancient law in the first place. The law was given to ultimately make our need perfectly clear to us. To which, God responds with a gift. You will find it wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s early Thanksgiving morning. As usual, I’m up before the ladies. In a couple of hours the house will be bustling with preparations. For now, it is so quiet that my increasingly deaf ears can hear the wind and rain hitting the house.

It’s a very different holiday this year. In that past 15 months my mom and dad were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and cancer, respectively. This summer they moved into a retirement community. We have so much for which to be thankful despite present circumstances. Medication has slowed progress of mom’s illness. While dad’s cancer will require ceaseless cycles of oral chemotherapy, tests show that the cancerous proteins in his blood are now held at bay. They are in a wonderful retirement community filled with warm and enjoyable new friends. We are so thankful.

It has been a huge year of transition. Madison, sadly, will be flying the friendly skies today and is unable to join us. She has been working tirelessly and will graduate from UCCS in a few weeks. Taylor returned from Scotland with a master’s degree and diligently continues the job search. Suzanna is kicking it in her first year of college. Wendy and I sold a house, built a house, and moved. We’ve been more intentional with our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and stepped down from leadership in the community theatre. There has been so much movement on everyone’s respective life journeys.

All that said, I find my heart struggling to find equilibrium in the pre-dawn hours of this Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for everyone being relatively healthy and happy, yet I acknowledge the intense and painful struggle required for some of us to be able to report that. I am grateful for the blessing of family to be together, and still feel the heartache of missing family I have not seen for far too long. I am giving thanks for our wonderful new home where 16 of us can gather comfortably, and at the same time grieve the passing of family traditions that have been woven into the tapestry of our lives for so many years.

Yesterday I read about the relatively unknown story of Squanto. The native American who became a miraculous life-line to the Pilgrims in that first year in America had actually been abducted and sold as a slave in Europe. Given his freedom by Catholic friars in Spain, he lived in London for a time. He found his way back to America on a trading ship, agreeing to provide his interpretation skills in the new world in exchange for passage. When he returned, however, he found his tribe had been wiped out, likely by disease. He found his way home only to find himself alone in the world.

When Squanto wandered into the Pilgrim’s camp, he was uniquely prepared to help them. He had lived in London longer than some of the Pilgrims. He spoke their language. He understood their ways. He was uniquely qualified to teach them the skills they would need to survive the American wilderness. The Pilgrims had been through hell on their voyage and that first deathly winter. They were unprepared for life in the new world. Having lived through enslavement and a decade of struggle to get home, Squanto needed a tribe and a family. Having lived through the struggle of voyage and a terrible year of death, the Pilgrims needed someone to teach them how to survive in the New World and to communicate with their new neighbors. How miraculous that they found one another.

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about that first Thanksgiving. I find it fascinating that the gratitude for both Pilgrim and Native came at the end of a period of incredible challenges, struggles, defeats, and transition in their respective life journeys. And yet, they stopped to feast and offer God thanks in the midst of it all. They’d found each other, and in one another they’d found God’s gift of hope. It seems oddly familiar this year.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen. The rattling of pans has begun, and it’s time for me to start preparations for the feast and for family. Thanks to all who join me on this blogging journey and who, from time to time, take a moment to read my early morning rambling and meandering of heart. I’m grateful for you.

It’s time to roast a turkey. Blessings to you all.

After Dinner Blessing

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
Deuteronomy 8:10 (NIV)

The harvest here in Iowa is in full swing. Gorgeous, dry fall weather means that the corn and bean fields are full of combines and grain trucks bringing in the land’s bounty. When you live in Iowa, even if you have nothing to do with farming, you feel a keen connection to the land and the seasons of cultivating, planting, growing, and harvesting. It’s part of the fabric of daily life in the heartland.

Wendy and I love our meals with family and friends. We love setting the table, making a good meal, opening the wine, and sharing long hours of laughter and conversation over the food and drink. Especially during the harvest season there is a extra sense of gratitude I feel for God’s provision, the land which produces the abundance we enjoy, and those who labor to produce it.

The verse above is one that I have memorized and, quite regularly, at the end of a good meal it will come to mind as we sit in the contented afterglow of our feast. It is tradition at our table to say a prayer of blessing at the beginning of our meal, but this verse has taught me that it is every bit as appropriate to say a word of thanks and gratitude after “you have eaten and are satisfied.”

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Occupied

source: kungfuji via Flickr
source: kungfuji via Flickr

“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime,
    when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house,
when the Almighty was still with me
    and my children were around me….”
Job 29:4-5 (NIV)

I had to be careful when I came up to my office this morning. Madison flew home yesterday for a brief pre-Christmas visit (she has to be on-call for work next week), and both bedrooms upstairs across from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. As I tip-toed up the dark stairway my mind was occupied with thoughts of the days when that was a regular morning occurrence. I remember going through a period of grief right after Madison moved out and the nest was truly empty.

And then, in a moment of vague synchronicity, I get to my office and open my MacBook to read Job’s words pasted at the top of this post. I get that Job is lamenting a loss that was far more extreme and infinitely more dire. That’s the cool thing about God’s Message. It meets you where you are in the moment.

In this moment I feel the bitter-sweetness of aging.

I watch my girls riding the roller coaster of young adulthood. One moment they express to me the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies that stage of life’s journey. After years of parental guidance (and/or repression), they are living their own lives. They can go where they want and do what they want, whenever they want to do it. And, they can legally drink adult beverages while doing it (except for our acquired young adult, Suzanna, who still has a year or two for that one!). And then, the next moment they express to me the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of finishing school, finding jobs, navigating the health care system, and making ends meet. Welcome to life, sweetie.

For the record, I look at my life currently and realize that I’m on the same roller coaster ride. My car is just over-the-hill. One moment I express the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies this stage of life’s journey. After years of parental responsibilities with children and teenagers, Wendy and I can once again go where we want and when we want whenever we want to do it. We even have the added blessing of financial resources to enjoy a few things for the first time in our lives. And, we can still legally drink adult beverages while doing it. And then, the next moment I experience the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of a body that doesn’t work the way it used to, hanging onto a job, and planning for retirement that suddenly doesn’t seem so far away. I carry concerns about the parents ahead of us on life’s road, and carry more concern than I thought I would about those young adult children following behind.

C’est la vie. It is what it is.

On this particular December morning, however, both rooms across the hall from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. And, while I miss the one angel who slumbers across the ocean, this morning feels a lot like “old times.” And, for that, I’m thankful (and hanging on for that next hill).

 

A Lesson in Gratitude

TenLepers

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19 (NIV)

On the refrigerator at our lake house you’ll find some sweet “thank you” notes left by guests. Taylor and her friends used the place for a weekend last month, and when we arrived we found that all them had signed a hand-made and artistic thank you note (and included a bottle of wine with it). My favorites are always the thank you notes left by children. You know that the child’s note was prompted by a mom or dad who was teaching the kid about manners and gratitude, but they are always so endearing.

I have learned so many spiritual lessons by having our little place at the lake. Wendy and I have always had a sense that our job was to steward the place well, and to be generous with it. God has blessed us and we’re paying it forward. What I didn’t expect was the inherent lesson it has been in generosity and gratitude. It’s been fascinating to see how people treat that which is generously given. Some show their respect and gratitude simply by the visible care with which they treat that which is not theirs. Others not only treat things with respect, but also express their gratitude in creative and tangible ways that warm our hearts. Occasionally, a guest will be neither respectful or grateful. What are you gonna do? People are people.

My joy at receiving simple expressions of thanks has really prompted a lot of personal soul searching in recent years. I look back on my journey and realize that, more often than not, I have been like the nine lepers who accepted Jesus’ generous healing but never thought to go back and simply say, “Thank you.” God’s blessing has been so abundant and I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of being neither respectful nor grateful. I now have a greater sense of what Jesus felt when He asked the thankful cleansed leper, “Where are the other nine?” I get it. I don’t ever want to counted among the nine again.

Today, I’m expressing my gratitude for all the ways God has abundantly blessed me and my family.